Brick Model Railroader’s 2017 Year in Review!

Hello followers, fans and supporters, and happy new year!

Here’s our first post of 2018! We hope that everyone had a Happy Holiday season and a safe new year’s. We’d like to reflect on our 2017 and offer some commentary on our crazy and awesome first year.

First, we’ll start with a few numbers. In one year of existence, here’s what we’ve accomplished:

  • 151 article posts (this one not included)
  • 288 comments on our website posts
  • 230,000 views on our website
  • 264 orders on our website store
  • 4 premium instruction kits produced
  • 1703 people who “like” our Facebook page
  • 1779 people who follow our Facebook page
  • 57 followers on Twitter
  • 169 posts on Instagram
  • 718 followers on Instagram
  • 14 videos uploaded to YouTube
  • 496 subscribers on our YouTube channel

… and that’s just one calendar year! Wow! Considering where we started from, these numbers seriously blow us away. A little more on where we actually DID start from:

Early sketch by Glenn Holland for BMR’s logo.

Cale Leiphart had been kicking around the idea for a new Lego train related website for a few months before we gained any real traction. Then, on December 8th, 2016, he sent out an email to several individuals including Glenn Holland, Elroy Davis, Anthony Sava, and more. Several ideas were kicked around. The intent was to fill the hole left behind by the demise of RAILBRICKS . A lot of ideas had been discussed on how to do that, including starting a new magazine. However, these ideas weren’t quite what any of us truly wanted, or though feasible. Cale’s idea was a blog-style website with emphasis on in-depth articles, as it would be much easier to write articles and post them on the go rather than laying everything out in a magazine format. After much thought and several emails, started fleshing out the details. We also discussed several names before deciding on Brick Model Railroader, which was suggested by Elroy Davis.

Screenshot of the first article on the BMR site. This one was only used for testing.

The weeks of December flew by quickly, as we were learning how to create and manage a website and write a small handful of interesting articles to be posted for our official first day. After creating social media pages and getting everything else ready, we made the website public on December 30, 2016. For those easter-egg hunters, the car number on the BMR Boxcar Decals is 123016, an obvious reference to this date. 🙂

We went from an idea to a public website in a little more than three weeks.

One of the ideas we had early on was opening an online store in some manner. The main objective was to sell a few items to help defray the costs of running and maintaining the website. Cale and Glenn began kicking around some ideas, including shirts, PDF instructions, and more (we’re still trying to work out a good shirt design, hopefully we’ll have one for sale this year). We decided on selling printed instruction books for a few freight cars, and Cale selected the Pullman PS-1 40′ boxcar. He just happened to have one sitting around awaiting proper decals. It was supposed to be a Lehigh Valley “Flag Car”, but this soon changed. The car ended up  the Brick Model Railroader logos as a way to help promote the web site when at train shows. The PS-1 design proved popular with readers and many started asking for Instructions.

First print of BMR’s PS-1 Boxcar Premium Instructions.

One of the goals we had in creating instructions is that we wanted them to be really special. We wanted them to be more than just some steps to assemble a model. We decided to include a history of the prototype being represented, adding to the “premium” in “premium instructions”. We’re hardcore train geeks here at BMR. And this is the kind of stuff we love. And we hoped it would foster a love for the prototype and its history, in other builders for the model they we’re building. We also decided to include ball-bearing equipped wheel sets to be used on the model, along with all other non-LEGO elements (Brickarms). We wanted to streamline the building process as much as possible without selling what could easily have become a $150 – $200 boxcar kit.

We hit a big snag right before our original launch. Just before Philly Brickfest 2017, we discovered the metal train axles would not fit into the bearings properly, so we had to delay our launch. Fortunately, Scott Hoffmeyer of BrickTracks offered us a solution of custom-turned metal axles. We tried several sizes and finally found one that worked. We were all set to launch our instruction kits.

Originally, Cale was barely convinced we could sell maybe 10 boxcars, and that it would be essentially a one-time thing. I goaded him into producing 20 kits, however, and also that we should open our online store to pre-orders for the next batch, as a way of feeling out our market.

We were blown away by the response. Our initial run sold out in a matter of minutes with more and more orders flooding in. About six months later, here we are with FOUR unique premium instruction kits under our belt with a fifth one on the way, AND a locomotive kit becoming VERY close to an official announcement.

Looking for a hint on what locomotive we’re releasing? A surviving example can be found here.

It’s been a crazy awesome year for the entire BMR team. To everyone involved, be you staff, contributors, website masters, contest organizers, instruction and model producers, and more, thank you for your amazing support, time, and effort. The success we’ve had in our first year is astounding.

And lastly, we’d like to our extend our sincerest thanks to the amazing LEGO train community. Without you, we wouldn’t be anything more than a website. Without you, we wouldn’t be in a position to produce instructions to help promote the hobby. BMR wouldn’t truly exist without our amazing followers.

What an amazing first year. We’ve come so far, and we’re only just beginning. (Seriously, we have enough plans to keep us occupied for years).

From all of us at Brick Model Railroader, we thank you for a good 2017, and we wish you and your families a safe, happy, and prosperous new year!

One last word from Cale

First, A huge thank you to Glenn Holland for putting together the article above. Now it’s my turn.

As I sit hear at home on New Year’s Eve (I’m not a party person) writing this as the clock ticks over to 12am January 1st 2018, I can hear the horn of a Norfolk Southern freight train echoing up the river valley from the banks of the Susquehanna a few miles away in Columbia PA. It seems like a fitting background for reflecting on my journey with BMR in our first year.

I started out 2017 with uncertainty. 2016 was not a great year for me. I had decided to leave my long time job in the landscape industry that year. It had been my career for 17 years. I once loved the job, and there were still aspects I enjoyed, but the whole of it had soured on me. I found myself waking up in the morning dreading going to work, and I couldn’t wait to go home at the end of the day. I couldn’t see any future for me in the industry, and I had come to hate where I was at. I was loosing sleep, my anxiety was overpowering at times, and all I could seem to focus on was negative. My feelings on my job were affecting everything in my life in a negative way. I had to step away. That life wasn’t for me anymore.

I’ve never been good at life planning. So when I left my landscape job for good in the spring of 2016, I didn’t have a plan for what to do next. I spent much of 2016 looking for my next job. And I failed miserably. I’m 40 years old with no college education. Most of my adult career had been spent in one niche profession, with little bearing on any other type of job training useful out side of it. I applied for many positions at many companies, some I really thought I wanted, and some because I was just trying to find something, anything, as employment. The story was always the same, I lacked experience, I wasn’t what they were looking for. I just wasn’t suited to do anything besides the job I had left behind. It was a hard year. At times I found myself sinking into depression, and at times wondered if I was better off going back to the job I hated. 2016 weighed heavily on me.

One of the bright spots I could turn to though was LEGO trains. And so to help take my mind off of my search for a new career. I began thinking about what would become Brick Model Railroader. I didn’t know what the final form would be, or how to even accomplish it, but the idea was there, and over time it grew. And then something turned up in my Facebook feed one day that kind of became the catalyst for taking the idea for BMR and making it real.

It was a little story about one of the world’s great model train landmarks, Miniatur Wunderland.  And it was a story about following a dream. Something in it spoke to me, I felt inspired. I wanted to do something, and soon that something became BMR, So on December 8th 2016 I wrote an email to a few friends, and it was all down hill from there.

At the start of 2017, with the help of several great friends, launched BMR. But my future was still uncertain. I was still unemployed, with no real leads on finding a job. I had just started this LEGO train website with no experience in how to run it. All I knew is that it was a way for me to give back to the hobby I loved, and a way to take my mind off my troubles and give me a sense of purpose.

2017 would be one of the more interesting years in my life, and I mean that in a good way. As BMR grew, I slowly came to realize that maybe the thing I had been looking for, a profession that I could be happy at, was looking me right in the face. Maybe LEGO trains is my purpose. I’ve been around this hobby a long time, from the early days of the AFOL community (LUGNET Member 271), and with all the highs, and all the lows, I’m as in love with it now as I’ve ever been. I find joy in building, in writing about the hobby, in sharing ideas with others, and in making the hobby a better place in any small way I can. It took a while, there have been plenty of speed bumps this year, and there is still a long way to go, but I feel I can see the light in the tunnel. BMR is on it’s way to becoming the thing I’ve been looking for: a dream job. Of course it’s just the beginning, I have a lot of mistakes to make and learn from, and a lot of hard work ahead. I’m still trying to figure out how to manage my time between creating content for the website, and working on things that will support BMR financially and also myself. But I’ve come to the conclusion that  by supporting BMR, I may just be able to support myself, and when I wake up in the morning, I would much rather be writing an article, creating instructions, tending to the needs of the website, or doing my part to promote the LEGO Train Hobby. I would rather do this than just about any other job in the world.

As 2017 comes to a close, and that train horn fades away, I’m really looking forward to 2018 and Brick Model Railroader. There is still uncertainty, but it a good kind now. There’s an anticipation in what new things will come next. Excitement in seeing how BMR grows and what new directions it will lead me in. I want to be here and a part of this hobby.

And on one last note, I want to give a special thanks to everyone who  has contributed to BMR over this past year. To Elroy Davis who is our LEGO Ambassador, one of the original idea men for the site, and a contributor of many articles. To Andy Mollmann who has written some awesome articles on electronics, and OKBrickworks,  our source for all the decals we sell for our kits. Matthew Hocker, our resident LEGO historian, and who never fails to dig up some awesome piece of LEGO literature from yesteryear. To Vince Fusca and Nathaniel Brill for the many great articles you provided this year. A tip of the hat to Jim Catagnus who is our webmaster, IT department, and with out who’s help, I would be lost in running this website. To Anthony Sava, Matt Csenge, and Mark Peterson for being sounding words for ideas. To Gerbrand van den Eeckhout (Raised) who has written articles, and who stepped up to the plate and led our OcTrainBer building contest. To my dear friend Joe Meno for always being there to listen to my crazy ideas, and helping support BMR through BrickJournal. And finally to Glenn Holland, who writes articles, handles BMR’s social media presence, is my other half in producing our Premium Instructions, and as big a dreamer as I am for BMR’s future. Without you, without all of you this site may have never got off the ground. You are my friends, and you are the heart of BMR. You are the LEGO train community and you BMR. I’m forever indebted to you for all your help in getting BMR ff the ground and though our first year. I’m very much looking forward to what 2018 brings with your help. Thank you.

And thank you to all our readers and fans. We do this because of you, because you love this hobby as much as we do, and because we want to share everything that is great about it with you. I’m just a shy kid from South Eastern Pennsylvania who never grew out of playing with trains. But the LEGO Train Community make me feel special and gives me fulfillment, and I want to return that favor through BMR.

Thank You All

Cale Leiphart
Brick Model Railroader Creator

Photo by Anthony Sava
Cale, delirious from all the train excitement at Brickworld, jumps from one of the PennLUG bridges, landing un climactically 2 feet bellow.

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